It’s hardly an exhaustive list and is mostly based on observations and experiences from the past week or so, but I thought I’d jot down a few of my favorite things about the ‘Jing.
- Beijing parks in the early morning. Jingshan, Beihai, even tiny Nanguan…parks all over the city are bustling at 6:00 a.m. I’m certainly not a gerontologist, but there has to be a significant mental and physical benefit to seniors who participate in daily group exercise. And the variety of activities is something to behold–dancing, tai chi, calligraphy, bird walking, one fellow who bends at the waist, legs straight, and walks on all fours for the length of the park (try this sometime, you won’t make it 10 yards).
- The variety of great food available for less than 10 RMB. Snacks, breakfast, lunch, noodles, chuan’r…you can live in Beijing and spend anywhere between 15 and 1500 kuai on dinner, and some of my 15 kuai dinners have been the better than a few fancy banquets I’ve attended by a long shot.
- I like the new metro lines. The trains are comfortable and the two giant xiangqi boards built into the floor of the Dongsi Line 5 platform are a nice touch.
- Hutong living. YJ and I just moved into a small pingfang in a yard with about 19 other families. The yard itself is cool and I love our little house, but the best part about living there are the neighbors. Within a week of moving in, we’ve met just about everybody and it really seems like the residents all look out for each other. (By contrast, we lived in our loufang for nearly two years and never exchanged more than a forced ‘ni hao’ with the yuppie across the hall.) It’s also been fun sitting in the middle courtyard with the neighbors after dinner shooting the shit about whatever. Good times.
- Basketball. You’re never far away from a court in Beijing and once you’re on the court, it’s easy to get into a game. The skill level varies wildly among the local players, but the enthusiasm is always consistently high. Generally speaking too, people are pretty good sports. There will always be exceptions, but it’s usually a friendly atmosphere without a lot of egos getting in the way of a good game.
- So many people are into history. I love it when random interactions with strangers or passing acquaintances turn into 45 minute discussions of military strategy during the Ming-Qing transition.
- Good move on the part of the municipality to go to odd/even days for cars. It hasn’t really had any effect on the air quality, but it’s made the streets a lot nicer for bikes and pedestrians. Personally, I wouldn’t have any objection to making the policy permanent after the games.
- Ding zuo. You can have just about anything custom made in Beijing. Dining room table in the showroom too short? We’ll build it taller. Need to hide the ugly refrigerator in the middle of your living room? Custom-made Qing style cabinet with no floor or back and an extra-wide door. Good suits. Leather shoes. Whatever. If you can draw a picture and give some idea of what size and color, somebody can make it for you.
- The music scene. They’ll never get on the radio, but bands like Joyside, Snapline, Buyi, Brain Failure, and Second Hand Rose (to name only a very very few) play good music with passion. Sure a lot of the bands might not have the greatest chops and some of the songwriting lacks polish, but the level of enthusiasm with which the music is performed makes up for a lot. Besides, when was rock and roll ever about polish over passion?
What’s on your list?
Richard Burger is the author of Behind the Red Door: Sex in China, an exploration of China's sexual revolution and its clash with traditional Chinese values.